Women’s lives and women’s movements in Kurdistan

This seminar focus on Kurdish women's lives and activism, in Kurdistan and in the diaspora. Although Kurdish women's movements have existed in the different regions of Kurdistan for many decades, relatively little attention has been given to their history and dynamics. This seminar brings together three academics who have done research on Kurdish women from three different regions: Minoo Alinia  for Iraq, Nerina Weiss for Turkey, and Wendelmoet Hamelink for Syria. 

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In recent years Kurdish feminism came in the spotlight because of the foundation of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava). In this semi-autonomous region with its own government and military structure, the leading political movement has given much attention to women's rights. However, what is the longer history of this movement, and what happens in other Kurdish regions?

Within Kurdistan, different women groups are often disconnected from each other and operate in the different political environments of the different nation-states. In the diaspora, women's activism is also often organized for each diaspora group separately. This event will connect these different environments and give an overall impression about women's lives and activism in the region and abroad.

14:00 Introduction Moderator Rusan Gungor

Women opposing violence: room for resistance and spaces of empowerment

This paper addresses women’s struggles against violence and for gender equality and democratic rights in the post Saddam era in Kurdistan-Iraq. They are not only victims for oppression but also social agents struggling for empowerment, social power and social justice. The removal of the Baath regime opened a space for people to organize and mobilize for various social and political ends. Women were among the first to take the opportunity to organize themselves and mobilize against gender-based violence. Their narratives highlight some significant aspects: 1) Complexity and multidimensionality of Kurdish women’s experiences of oppression and struggle. 2) The destructive impact of war, militarisation, ethnic oppression, and state violence on women’s empowerment in private and public spheres. 3) The importance of democratic rights and democratic institutions, alternative and empowering knowledge, spaces for solidarity, and opportunities for mobilization and collective action to women’s struggle. 4) The significance and important role of the state, and the legal and political system in either promoting or deterring violence against women. 5) The need for solidarity among all oppressed groups in a broad front against all sites of oppression and all oppressive structures and for social justice.

Dr. Minoo Alinia, Associate Professor in Sociology, Södertörn University, Sweden

Falling from Grace – an activists at odds with the movement

Based on biographic interviews with a former PKK guerrilla fighter, Nerina Weiss will explore how women negotiate their social position and gender roles within a small Kurdish community in Eastern Turkey. Instead of presenting these women only as the victims of this struggle – both subjected to the external and the internal war, i.e., oppressed by the Turkish state as well as by inner Kurdish patriarchal structures (Mojab 2000), the presentation follows a feminist approach in elaborating on the heterogeneous subjectivities and gender roles among Kurdish women (see also Çağlayan 2007). Within the feminist literature on the subject, empowerment has mostly been perceived in terms of political agency and women’s participation in the Kurdish movement (Çağlayan 2007). Through their active involvement in politics, women are expected to develop from an often uneducated and suppressed position to an empowered woman, who has gained self-respect and negotiated her position within the public sphere. I want to explore the live story of a woman, who, although politically active, did not necessarily define herself through her political activity. She did not present her life story according to a party line, i.e. developing from the uneducated, oppressed woman to the liberated, strong and self-conscious activist. This woman rather dwelled on the different social and political expectations, contradicting role models and complex contexts she had and has to deal with on a daily basis. She acted in a context of multiple constraints, as she had to deal with local perceptions of honour and shame, was repeatedly exposed to police and military interventions and was expected to live up to the gender ideal dominant in the Kurdish nationalist movement. These ascribed statuses, however, did not necessarily correspond with the woman’s own experiences and subjectivities. 

Dr. Nerina Weiss, Senior Researcher at FAFO, Oslo

Everyday life, family relationships and political activism of Syrian Kurdish women

This paper focuses on covert forms of Kurdish activism that are not widely known, but arguably were and are very influential in transforming Kurdish society from within. Because of government oppression against Kurds and other minorities in the Middle East, Kurdish civil society had often little chance to develop within the legal arena of the different nation-states where the majority of Kurds live. Resistance went therefore underground or was fought through guerrilla struggle, which led to the politicization and militarization of Kurdish society. Women were not only restricted in organized activity by government oppression, but also by patriarchal societal structures. Because of these restrictions, many women gathered in unorganized ways, through family and local networks. Until now, most research about women’s activism has focused on visible forms of activism, such as the PKK-related Jineoloji movement in Turkey and Iraq, or women’s organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan (which could operate freely after the establishment of the safe haven in 1991, and the KRI in 2005). Wendy Hamelink's research shows, however, that women’s activities outside of this organized activism have been very important in transforming ideas about women’s roles and rights within Kurdish society. Based on the concept of everyday resistance (by de Certeau 1984 and Scott 1990), her presentation will explore how Kurdish women paved the way for more visible forms of activism.  

Dr. Wendelmoet Hamelink, Postdoctoral researcher at STK, University of Oslo
15:40 Break  
16:00 Discussion Moderator Rusan Gungor
Published Aug. 19, 2019 9:26 AM - Last modified Sep. 24, 2019 10:25 AM